Palliative Care Can Improve Quality of Life

Your Health Matters

Palliative care is a specialized area of medicine often confused with hospice care, when patients no longer receive aggressive therapy. Patients with life-limiting or life-threatening illnesses – respiratory disease, heart conditions, cancer or kidney failure - can greatly benefit from palliative care that places emphasis on symptoms and quality of life through pain management and physical, psychological and spiritual support. Specifically, palliative care aims to prevent or treat symptoms and side effects of a disease and medical treatment.

Susan Lyons, M.A., M.S.N., ACNP, who leads the newly formed palliative care support team at Meritus Medical Center, offers four common misconceptions of palliative care:

Nothing else can be done. Offering palliative care as part of the treatment plan does not mean that the physician has given up hope. In fact, integrating palliative care earlier in the treatment process has shown to increase life expectancy and the patient’s ability to tolerate treatment side effects.

It’s only for comfort. While the first principle of palliative care medicine is to relieve pain and other symptoms caused by a serious illness, the specialty also links resources together for a more coordinated, patient centered, care experience. Lyons has recently been joined by a second nurse practitioner, social worker and a dedicated chaplain to serve as a consult team for acute-care patients in the hospital.

This care if only for the patient. Palliative care fosters informed decision-making by patients and family members throughout the disease process. It provides an opportunity for them to clarify goals, understand treatment options and find community resources. It often also provides much needed support to caregivers.

My doctor will take care of my pain. Physicians are leaders in patient care; however, for patients with multiple chronic diseases and health care providers, pain management can end up among many hands. Sometimes specialists are only involved in the patient’s treatment plan for a limited period, but the palliative care support team can be involved for as long as the patient and family desire, to assist with quality of life concerns.

Lyons emphasizes that with palliative care, patients may:

  • Access care at any point during an illness
  • Seek curative or life-prolonging treatments while receiving palliative care
  • Find relief for symptoms of chronic diseases such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and emotional and spiritual issues

Patients most often receive palliative care in their homes, assisted-living facilities, nursing homes or hospitals. People living with a life-limiting condition can experience an improved quality of life by adding palliative care to their experience. Ask your primary care provider for more information about palliative care resources. Learn more about palliative care at Meritus Medical Center by visiting